In Trump's Home City, a Funder Helps Push Back Against Islamophobia

We've written a few pieces over the past year about how philanthropy is helping shape the debate over Muslims in America at a time that Donald Trump has been making incendiary proposals in this area.

It's a multi-faceted story, with money backing different views. A number of funders have pumped grants into nonprofits that paint an alarming picture of the domestic security threat posed by Muslims. Others have given to promote greater tolerance and understanding, as well as actively fight a rising tide of hate crimes. 

In short, this is a great example of the famed "diversity" of American philanthropy, with funders coming from all over the place—including some rather dark corners of the nation's psyche. 

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One important thing to know about the money flowing to fight Islamophobia is that it's often been from funders focused on a particular place or region. For example, several California funders have given for tolerance work in that state. 

Then there's the New York Community Trust, based in Donald Trump's home city. As we highlighted earlier this summer, NYCT has lately given new attention to pushing back against Islamophobia through its grantmaking. 

If you recall, the largest recent NYCT anti-Islamophobia grant of $90,000 went to the Arab American Association of New York, which is using the money to connect Muslim leaders and groups in New York City to respond to anti-Islamic rhetoric and stereotyping.

Related: What's the Latest from NYCT? Early Literacy and Islamophobia Among Other Issues

But more recently, following NYCT’s June 2016 grant commitments to the Muslim-American community, New York Community Trust leaders joined forces with NYC Muslim-American leaders to launch a new citywide effort to fight Islamophobia. And the locally focused funder just committed half a million dollars towards this new effort that will focus on highlighting and supporting the positive contributions of Muslim Americans living in New York City and elsewhere.

This is a particularly crucial cause because over 80 percent of media coverage of Muslims is negative, according to reports from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Worse yet, surveys show that almost half of people in the U.S. don’t personally know a Muslim, so the only perception they’re getting is from that negative media coverage.

Veteran New Yorkers, though, know better. Over 600,000 Muslims live in New York City and they've made a huge contribution to its economy and cultural vitality. That same story could be told, on a small scale, in communities across the U.S. 

Helping lead this grantmaing effort at NYCT are program officers Shawn Morehead and Kerry McCarthy. Morehead used this latest news as an opportunity to highlight the foundation’s broader commitment to marginalzed groups. 

Recently, we helped thousands of young undocumented immigrants apply for the federal program known as DACA, which allows them to work and go to school without fear of deportation. Also, The Trust has helped gay and lesbian immigrants apply for legal protection.

NYCT’s support for immigration issues is nothing new. It’s been working in this sphere since at least 1987 with its Fund for New Citizens. However, this Islamophobia effort is a bit different. While past support has focused more on legal services for immigrants and immigrant integration, this latest push is for improved public perceptions and a media overhaul.

“Muslim Americans are part of the diversity that we love about New York,” Morehead has said. “The media and public perception should reflect this reality.”

The foundation’s anti-Islamophobia grants have been between $50,000 and $100,000 lately and gone towards highlighting the work of Muslim artists and enhancing leadership skills of Muslim youth. Based on the most recent NYCT request for proposals for these types of grants, it’s also been particularly interested in strengthening the advocacy infrastructure and boosting the organizational infrastructure of community-based groups to counter anti-Islam prejudice.

Unfortunately, there’s currently not an open RFP for Islamophobia grant opportunities. But stay tuned because this NYCT project is just getting its feet off the ground, and we’re expecting big things to come out of this very relevant and niche funding commitment.